Sunday, June 23, 2013

On Super Moon Sunday

I was outside around 5:30 this morning, and the moon was indeed huge and glorious. It had awakened me and Abigail and caused her to insist that I get up and go out. But, as often when seasons change, I become reflective, and the beginning of summer this year was no different. I have always been fiercely independent. While my husband will ask for a back scratch, I will grab a comb, scissors, or an 'official' back scratcher when I have an itch. I have a few really close friends that I've known for many years, but I don't make very many new, close friends. I am "friendly" with co-workers, but find the notion of making people at work close friends a bit dodgy. So, what level of grade school am I still in that makes my feelings hurt sometimes that I'm not included in the workplace "cliques?" Independence has its costs, and at what age do we, or I, realize and embrace that rather than bemoaning it? I guess it is a question of self acceptance, as in, when do we achieve that? Or am I WAY behind other people of my age?

Speaking of summer, I keep seeing fragrances for sale as both colognes and room fresheners that are called "Linen this" and "Linen That." I love linen as a fabric, apart from the fact that it develops wrinkles between taking it off the ironing board and hanging it up, let alone wearing it! But I've never noticed a particular fragrance to this rough cotton fabric. Nothing rainy, or "crisp," or anything. I guess these fragrance names come from the same people who make sunflower fragrances. Sunflowers are my favorite flower-love them.  I've sniffed them wild, and sniffed them in flower sections of super markets, and I've sniffed the ones that people who know me send me when they send me flowers for whatever reason. They don't really have a fragrance. When I smell rose perfume it smells like a rose. Where does this idea of sunflower linen come from?

There is a commercial about a certain company that provides security systems for homes. The gentleman in the commercial is telling the story of the day his home was robbed, and how he arrived at home after he got the call, and the security company had already called the police quickly enough that they caught the robber coming out. Then he says how "lucky" he is to have this system. Lucky? I can tell you, he CHOSE to have this system installed in his home, and he pays them a monthly fee for monitoring. He also pays an extra monthly fee for having the privilege of the police being on call by the monitoring call center. What does "luck" have to do with any of that?

I have been among the many Americans who have accepted the arguments for Asian medicine, and the notion that it has worked for thousands of years longer than "Western" medicine, and therefore should be included or integrated into the medicine we use to heal in this country. I still think Yoga is a good way to discipline one's body, and I've heard some good anecdotal things about acupuncture. But a few days ago I remembered the use of testicles and horns of endangered animals being ground up and used as "medicine" to provide virility to males, and I suddenly experienced a real distaste for Asian medical traditions. Not only do I question the idea that virility comes from the testicles or ivory horns of macho animals, I cannot accept that  everything that is continued because it is "traditional" is good or valid, and this is why we must QUESTION EVERYTHING that we are told about such things. If there is a cost that is too large, or great harm comes from any type of tradition, it should be easily dropped. Asian medicine that uses parts of endangered animals and causes poachers to believe that destroying these animals is okay because of the money they can make doing it, then it is just plain wrong. Wrong.

As an environmentalist I have heard much about the wasting of water, in particular, when we send streams of water running down the concrete jungle. I can understand that when that water goes into sewer systems, it is essentially gone. But when water stays on the concrete until it evaporates, does it not return to the hydrologic cycle? Water is a non-renewable resource and should never be wasted. I'm not a fan of watering lawns, or planting grasses (such as St. Augustine in Texas...not native or drought resistant, much water is used just to keep it green when native grasses would do better here...) but big picture, can we be more realistic about what we choose to worry or fuss about?

And while we are on the subject of science, I made a brash claim to some friends a few days ago that I was going to scientifically prove with this post that dogs are smarter than cats. A few looked at me with furrowed brows, but I've been surprised that no one sent me hate mail or death threats. People can be so entrenched as "dog people" or "cat people." But this is not about my opinion, it is about science; in particular, evolution. Cats were only domesticated around four-thousand years ago. Dogs have been domesticated for around thirty-thousand years or more, so time is definitely on the side of dogs evolving to be more "human friendly" than cats. But the stand-offishness of cats has been occasionally used to prove that cats are smarter-not as deferential or "emotionally needy." But evolution is about organisms adapting to their environments in order to survive and pass on genes to a new generation. (Excuse me for anthropomorphising a bit here,) but there had to be a first "social, non-fearful" wolf that noticed how well they could eat when they hung around the encampments of early man.  guess we wasted food even then! Will we ever learn?) So, perhaps this wolf-couple was discussing this, and the alpha female said to her mate, "You know, if we befriend them, perhaps I can have our pups here, and they'll be safe?" And she was right. Once that was settled, and these friendly canis lupus' were on the way to becoming canis familiaris, a relationship of trust was built with the humans. And then when the humans were threatened, the canines guarded the camp, and the humans realized that these beasts had something to offer in exchange for being fed and housed with the human community. Cats still, though there are exceptions, haven't realized this. They get those benefits, but they look at their human benefactors at times with some disdain, as if they are entitled to this food and housing, clean water and the scooping of their waste. I've heard some folks refer to a cat's independence as proof of their intelligence. But I disagree (I know, opinions are not science,) I believe it is a sign of two things: 1. After four thousand years, they still don't "get us." And, 2. They don't understand that humans are the beings who won the dominance game. Dogs were prescient enough to catch on that we were going to win the survival game, and they signed on to let the dominant creatures take care of them. Cats aren't there yet, and whether anyone believes that my observations are scientific enough or not, well, you are probably right. I'm not a scientist, but this is my argument, and I'm standing by it.

Well, not really standing by it. I'm not sure why I decided to stir up this hornet's nest. The truth is that cats and dogs have different ways of dealing with humans, and I'm not certain that one way or the other really means that one is smarter than the other. We've all known people who are extremely intelligent but have very poor social skills, or they lack "social intelligence," as in, they aren't very good at picking up social cues. Dogs are very good at reading human faces, and figuring out what we want from them. This deference sometimes costs them dearly-their easy trust of us, hard-wired into their DNA for about thirty-five thousand years, as some humans do unimaginably cruel things to dogs. But the diffidence that cats have for us is also well earned. I personally remember some boys I went to school with bragging about doing horrible things to cats, and thinking such stories were quite funny. So, why should they trust us, and fawn over us? I've shared my life with both cats and dogs, and currently reside with one of each. We have to work much harder to have a relationship with the cat than we do with the dog, but I, in truth, don't believe one is smarter than the other. They are different, as are we all. 


Rene' said...

I too am a very independent woman. Like you, I have a handful of very close friends but at this stage in my life, making new close friends is tough. Now that I'm in a new town with family but no friends, I wonder.... am I too old to make new friends or just too picky? Maybe I'm too much like a cat and not enough like a dog!

Vonnie Shallenberger said...

Rene`, thanks so much for your comment! Maybe with cats it's a matter of trust? Once we've seen what the world can really be like, it may be harder to let the walls down.

Rene' said...

I love both dogs and cats and have had (and have now) wonderful kitties and dogs that still visit me in dreams on occasion. Each has filled a very different place in my life. I yearn for the time and place to have another dog so in the meantime, I have Bruce. He's about as much like a dog as a cat can ever be and lives only to be loved. What a goof! I do think that I've reached a point in my life where I don't wish to be with people just to be with people. My own company (and Bruce's) is good enough. But then I am by nature a bit reclusive. I enjoy your writings immensely. Keep 'em coming!

Deegje said...

So am I to take from this that dogs were smarter because they evolved? Have to call BS on this one Vonstress! I know that you are not a bigot, so I will make the assumption that you are a speciesist either ;) One of the difficulties in measuring animal intelligence is that the animals are different (remember the old story about Animal school when the fish flunked the tree climbing exam and the squirrel flunked the breathing underwater exam, etc). Yes, I will agree that part of intelligence measurement includes adaptability. It also includes memory, self awareness, and problem solving skills. Evolution simply isn't enough to make a blanket conclusion about intelligence. Daily I see Strydr and Enzo try to get my attention. Enzo, the dog, barks and bounces off me and brings me toys. He has a very direct approach. I usually play a bit but often he doesn't have my complete attention because I can watch tv and play tug at the same time. Strydr, on the other hand, has learned how to turn on the water at the sink and get a drink, push things off the table for the dog to chew on, bring me toy mousies as a gift, and poop in the bathtub. All guaranteed to get my undivided attention. Each one is communicating with me, and each had his different style. Equally intelligent? Strydr learned turn on the water when he wants a drink bur Enzo hasn't. Is it because he's a dumb dog or because, as a different animal, he doesn't rub against the faucet and then discover that water comes on when he does it, because dogs don't do that? Enzo will sit on command (yeah, I know, when there is food involved lol) but Strydr won't. Is it because Enzo is smarter? Is the cat dumb or just doesn't want to sit.
You brought up a good point about developing trust in humans. Was that such a smart thing?
Hey! Why u so down on cats lately? First there was the Crazy Cat Lady references you were making with the ammonia/litterbox subject. Can we also point to crazy mothers with babies in diapers, and crazy cleaning ladies if we are to site ammonia as a source for craziness lol?
But all in all, what really matters is the love and companionship that we have with animals. If WE are smart enough to pay attention, all the critters communicate with us and demonstrate their respective intelligences for what suits best their species, breed, gender, etc.
~steps down off soapbox~

Vonnie Shallenberger said...

Deegje, either you read the post before it was edited, or you stopped at the first paragraph. In the end I did conclude that it isn't a question of which is smarter, but they are different. I do stand by the fumes of litter boxes being damaging. I could be wrong, and it may just be that I'm not used to that smell, but when I walk into my neighbor's apt and can smell the box from the living room, and when I go into the room where it is stored and my eyes burn...years of exposure to such gases seems theoretically dangerous.

Deegje said...

Vonnie...I apologize. I dunno why I didn't scroll all the way down. I read the final paragraph. We agree then :)
But about the Crazy Cat Woman/ammonia connection. I have to disagree. While I find the smell of a catbox horrendous, I doubt that it is connected to any behavioral disturbances such as hoarding, or over anthropomorphizing. Such can be said of dog owners too (I am thinking of people who dress up their dogs. Really, a poodle in a sundress???) , and there are no ammonia related issues there. I find the stereotype of "Crazy Cat Lady" dismissive and hurtful, though. I think that there are other issues there that lead to over attachment and bad housekeeping.